There’s something about stories of corruption, especially corruption among police officers that makes for compelling reading (and in some cases, viewing, but we’ll get to that later). Corruption is one of the most human of vices, and seeing just where the tipping point is in different individuals adds to the interest. When you combine that with the intricate warren of life that is woven together in the tapestry that is New York City, compulsion can quickly turn to fascination.
Prince of the City is the book written by Robert Daley about the corruption and ultimate testimony of Detective Robert Leuci, a New York officer who was part of an elite investigative unit. It was a unit that helped put more criminals in jail than any other, with conviction rates through the roof and which did more to help society solve its crime problem than any other.
But it was also rife with corruption. These cops, while cleaning the streets, would keep the change. Percentages of confiscated money would disappear, busts that they knew wouldn’t lead to convictions were negotiated for cash, informants were paid with drugs.
Unlike a lot of books from the eighties that dealt with problems inherently seventies in nature, this one became a bestseller, was filmed and is still in print today (although I think it’s only available as en ebook at the moment).
Because apart from being compelling for the human element, it’s well-written and expertly woven together (Robert Daley was already known to me as the author of The Cruel Sport, but he does just as well in this very different milieux).
That much we already knew, but there’s another element in the mix. Though Daley only comes out and says it in a few cases, the feeling is that the cope involved in the inevitable fall all feel that prosecuting them was a mistake perpetrated on them by small-minded parsimonious bureaucrats, people so obsessed with the rule book that they can’t see the big picture.
And one is left with a sense, that they just might be right. There is no doubt they were corrupt, but even with all the facts on the table, one is left thinking that they were doing more harm than good. That they were essentially good men fighting crime in the most effective way they knew… and reaping certain benefits they felt they deserved.
I recommend this one to essentially everyone. It’s a character study and a compelling story rolled into one… and even better, it will make you think at the end of it.
Gustavo Bondoni is the author of the well-received novel Siege, as well as several other novels and short stories. You can find Siege here.